The Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY2012 agriculture bill was one of a series of measures taken up this week by policy makers looking toward the end of the government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Before leaving for August recess, the House had passed a budget resolution, though it was largely considered unacceptable in the Senate, and six of 12 appropriations bills, including the agriculture measure. The Senate had not passed a budget resolution or largely started the formal appropriations process.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee made up for some lost time by approving a FY2012 spending plan and the agriculture, energy and water and homeland security measures, while House Appropriations subcommittees were slated to look at transportation and labor and education measures on Thursday.
The agriculture spending bill, approved by a 28 to two vote, would allocate a total of $19.780 billion for spending by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration.
The total is somewhat less than FY2011 spending but nearly 14 percent more than the House-passed agriculture appropriations measure, which was considered draconian in many of its cuts.
The hoped-for increases in the Senate were particularly important for ag research, which has suffered in recent years as budgets have become tighter and earmarks – the historic mechanism for funding all projects in specific regions – have been banned.
A total of $2.309 billion was allocated for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The Senate restored $100 million in funding to ARS from the House bill, though even Senate levels of funding bring the program down 12 percent from FY2010 levels. NIFA’s key grant program was funded by the Senate at $266 million, on par with FY2011 levels, and $41 million more than House-passed levels.
Differences in the House and Senate were also apparent in the area of conservation funding. While the House cut the budget for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to $2.006 billion, the Senate fully funded it at $2.029 billion. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) had a 2011 baseline of $844 million; the House elected to fund it at $634 million in FY2012, while the Senate allocated $809 million.
Both the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) also saw reductions. The Biomass Conservation Assistance Program (BCAP) had a 2011 baseline of $248 million, which the House zeroed out and the Senate fully funded.
Food aid programs were also pulsed-up from House-approved levels, and trade promotion programs were funded at authorized levels.
Committee Members held off on amendments to the bill until floor consideration, a request of Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who heads the panel’s agriculture subcommittee.
Despite this week’s progress, a short-term continuing resolution will be necessary to fund the government while the process is completed. Though vigorous debate is expected on spending in many areas, so far, lawmakers have not demonstrated the level of partisan rancor that surrounded the FY2011 process, which nearly shut down the government, or the debt ceiling debate.
More on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s agriculture measure is at http://appropriations.senate.gov/.